In this edition of our interviews with the Sustainability Awards 2021 finalists, Mi Terro tells us about its ambitions to replace single-use plastics with home compostable materials made from agricultural waste.
Could you please introduce your successful entry and what’s innovative about it?
Mi Terro is the world's first advanced material company that partners with food companies and farmers to create home compostable, single-use plastic-alternative packaging materials made from plant-based agricultural waste – this is a first-of-its-kind approach. We are excited to see such a significant leap forward in our ability to manipulate nature’s most diverse and abundant building blocks.
We are not turning agricultural waste into beverages or snacks like other companies. Instead, we are giving plant-based agricultural waste a new life by repurposing it to replace single-use plastic, glass, and paper materials and giving additional incomes to farmers all around the world.
What are the environmental challenges in packaging that your entry addresses, and what impact do you hope it will make?
Globally, humans are estimated to use over 300 billion polybags and single-use, resealable sandwich and storage bags (SRPBs) every year. These bags are almost impossible to recycle — they end up in landfills or on the ground and in our ocean.
Thin film enters our lives for a minute, yet continues on as waste, never truly disappearing or getting recycled. Plastic films make up five million metric tons of ocean leakage, or a full 46% of all ocean plastic leakage.
It is estimated that there are 14 million metric tons of plastic on the ocean floor today that will be nearly impossible to extract. 11 million metric tons of new plastic enters the ocean every year. That number is expected to almost triple to 29 million metric tons by 2040 — the equivalent of 241 Washington Monuments.
We are replacing petroleum-based materials with plant protein made from agricultural waste. We are redefining the circular economy in which everything begins with agricultural waste and ends as compostable or biodegradable. Our mission is to bring commercial products to scale that can make an impact on the environment.
In 10 years, we will:
- Partner with 10+ beer manufacturers worldwide
- Upcycle 2,700,000 tonnes of spent grain
- Replace 100,000 tonnes of the world’s plastic packaging film
- Replace 480,000 tonnes of the world’s rigid plastic packaging
- Reduce 8,788,000 tonnes of CO2 in combination (spent grain + plastic).
I’d like to ask you about the broader picture beyond your successful entry. ‘Sustainability’ in packaging is multi-dimensional – both in terms of objectives and challenges. Could you comment on the most important roadblocks you identify from your position in the value chain, and the kinds of solutions you would like to see addressing them (e.g. areas of technological innovation, collaboration, regulation)?
We’re looking for approaches that are not just as good as the plastics we aim to replace, we must be better to create a compelling reason for customers to adopt the solution. We cannot rely purely on making a sustainability-led choice.
Mi Terro’s material can do things that plastic can’t. It has comparable functional properties in terms of barriers, but it’s consumable, which opens up all sorts of opportunities for food-grade applications. Crucially it decomposes quickly and naturally, so it can provide the kind of single-use benefits that we are accustomed to, without plastic pollution.
And all this from a natural, sustainable and renewable source. This is what the future of materials should look like across industries and we’re excited to a part of bringing this to the widest possible audience.